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Bill T. Jones Comes To Campus For Dance Department Events

Published: November 15, 2012

Nationally-recognized choreographer Bill T. Jones joins forces with CSULB’s Department of Dance for the Southern California premiere of a pair of his creations alongside three faculty works in the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 pm. Admission is $25 for reserved seating.

“In Collaboration: Bill T. Jones and the CSULB Department of Dance” features three premieres by CSULB faculty choreographers Gerald Casel, Sophie Monat and department chair Andrew Vaca. This event historically is the annual faculty dance concert which is augmented this year by Jones’ presence as part of “The B-Word Project—Banned, Blacklisted and Boycotted: Censorship and the Response to It” at CSULB, an 18-month campus-wide initiative led by the Carpenter Center. The series consists of performances and other activities to stimulate wide-ranging discussions that examine what happens when a voice—whether in artistic endeavors, journalism, scientific research or other areas—is stifled through governmental, commercial or social restraints. The B-Word Project is made possible by a Creative Campus Innovations Grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The Southern California premieres of Jones’ “Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger” and companion piece “Mercy 10 x 8 on a Circle” will be performed by CSULB students in collaboration with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company Education Department. “This is the first time this dance has ever been performed by a company of dancers other than the Jones/ Zane Company,” said Vaca. “This is the first time they have restaged the piece.”

Jones is the recipient of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors; a 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography for the hit “FELA!”; a 2007 Tony Award, a 2007 Obie Award and a 2006 Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Callaway Award for his choreography for “Spring Awakening;” the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; the 2007 USA Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship; the 2006 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreography for “The Seven;” the 2005 Wexner Prize; the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 2005 Harlem Renaissance Award; the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize; and the 1994 MacArthur “genius” award. In 2000, The Dance Heritage Coalition named Jones “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure.”

Jones choreographed and performed worldwide with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. He has created more than 140 works for his company. In 2011, Jones was named executive artistic director of New York Lives Arts, an organization that strives to create a robust framework in support of the nation’s dance and movement-based artists through new approaches to producing, presenting and educating.

“This collaboration is a huge project that has been a couple of years in the making,” said Vaca, who will see the premiere of his eight-minute work “Clearing the Essence of Darkness” featuring a 18-member cast. “Our students are being enormously challenged by Jones’ creation. I don’t think there’s a single one of them who has ever had to learn an hour-long work of dance before.”

The students began learning the piece two weeks before the fall semester. Leah Cox, education director of the Jones/ Zane Company, reconstructed the work in conjunction with past and present company members Stuart Singer and Shayla-Vie Jenkins. Vaca believes the collaboration is a win-win situation for the department.

“To have the opportunity to present a work by one of the greatest living choreographers in the modern dance world is amazing,” he said. “It’s amazing to have someone like Bill T. Jones in your home. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to show the country that our students can handle performing an hour-long work of high quality. And it is an amazing opportunity for the Department of Dance to be a part of the B-Word Project.”

Bill Jones In colloboration flyer

Also on view in November will be “Proxima,” a study in spatial composition from Dance’s Gerald Casel. “It’s a simple study of `near’ and ‘far’ as it relates to human relationships,” said Casel, who joined the university this fall. “It is an exploration of bodies moving in space where I’ve asked my students to solve some problems through movement and their solutions help to create the composition of the dance. If my directions are clear, we will see something striking.”

Opening the faculty program will be a contemporary ballet choreographed by Dance’s Sophie Monat titled “Handel Dances.” A reworking of a piece she choreographed earlier this year, the work is a pure dance piece inspired by and set to selections from Handel’s “Water Music” and “Concerti Grossi” and features 10 women on pointe. ”I’m especially looking forward to working in the Carpenter Center. It’s an amazing space,” she said.

One of the performance’s challenges is the Carpenter Center’s size. “You’ve got to find ways to reach out to everyone in the audience. That challenge in the Carpenter Center is a different challenge from the department’s usual venue, the 230-seat Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater where the audience sits eight feet from the performers,” he said. “In the Carpenter Center, that distance stretches to 30 yards. Both audiences deserve the same type of experience.”

One reason for the collaboration, Vaca believes, is the Department of Dance’s strength in depth.

“When Bill T. Jones arrived, he found a department with seven studios in a space designed specifically for dance. That doesn’t happen that often in today’s world,” he said. “There are tall windows, high ceilings, raised floors and a baby grand piano in every studio. This is all a part of providing the best opportunity for our students. It’s our responsibility to make sure our students keep their dancing ability throughout their lives. I danced in a studio where the wood floors rested right on top of concrete. Guess what? I’m 48 and I’ve had both hips replaced. Resources like the raised floors at CSULB make a difference.”

Vaca hopes the twin concerts increase awareness of what happens in CSULB’s Department of Dance. “We can see the quality of our work every day with our enthusiastic, talented students,” he said. “I want this performance to attract an audience that will see what we see. I want to raise the awareness of how strong this department really is.”

Vaca encourages the campus and local community to make plans to attend. “For those who don’t usually spend their free time attending dance concerts, this is a great concert to see,” he said. “In the first half, its premieres (a ballet, a post-modern dance and Vaca’s mix of jazz and modern dance) represent appetizers before the main course of Jones’ performance. I would dare anyone to walk away from this performance without being emotionally affected.”

Reserved seating tickets to the Nov. 16 and 17 performances of “In Collaboration: Bill T. Jones and CSULB Department of Dance” are on sale for $25. Tickets are available at or by calling the CSULB Arts Ticket Office at 562/985-7000. Discounts for seniors, students and groups are available, call for details. This presentation is made possible in part by season media partner KPCC 89.3FM.